Never Let The Old Man In.
After the ball ache agony of endless proof-reading, the final copy is sent off to the printers with more a sense of relief than achievement.
Let me say it clearly: if you aspire to do a book of quality,
in content and product design, be prepared for the very hard yards.
In time though, you’ll be convinced that the whole adventure, the journey, even the grind, will stand the test of time, and you can be content that you personally have grown.
And isn’t that the point? Christ knows you aren’t doing it for the commercial return. There is very little money in writing a book. Publishers will only get behind authors with existing derisked audience and popularity, just like music labels only signing an artist with months of exposure on X-Factor, or Hollywood making movie investment into proven franchises.
In reality, there is almost no money anywhere in artistic content creation.
This brings you to the Why. Your personal WHY.
Why spend time and money on the podcasts, these Columns, the Sport Summit Como, and this book? All with an arrogant idea of being able to be credible? After 55, if money problems aren’t completely at your throat, you have the option to sit lazily under a tree and kick off the shoes.
But that’s the beginning of the end. As my dear friend, ex international footballer John Colquhoun, says:
“Never let the old man in; coz if you do…”
Today’s Sunday Column is simply about what I learnt, writing a book. It’s personal and introspective.
First lesson. There are different ways to do anything: commodity and premium.
Premium is always difficult.
Here’s the truth though: commodity just has no value today. In the past, in a world of parochial and local, you could somewhat get away with “average”. When competing instead with a global glut of very appealing product/content, the bar is so much higher, and “average” is just fucking worthless pap.
You are therefore inevitably driven to “premium”, not for money, but probably for pride and legacy. What I call:
the “this is what your grandad did” audience.
That was my WHY for this, and maybe also just to compete with myself. There always has to be someone you need to beat, right?
This book journey started with someone, in the publishing industry, a follower of my podcast and articles, encouraging me that the market needed this book:
you should write the business-of-sport manual, it’s logistically easy. Self-publishing now allows people to use an Amazon or IngramSpark to print, distribute and sell their own book.
I looked into it. It’s true. But these cookie-cutter platforms don’t offer a lot of creative flexibility in product, so going for individuality and premium becomes a practical chore you will need to confront yourself with. Don’t embark on the “quality” journey, if you aren’t prepared for the pain.
Also, if you’re surrounded by perfectionists with exquisite taste and high standards, (as Como Summiteers know is the Albachiara way), graphs will demand to be all re-designed manually; drawings all done fresh; fonts, headings, sidebars all formatted like a surgeon. There is no short-cut.
Second lesson. Be very clear what you are writing, and for whom.
This is the WHAT.
The audience needs to be front of mind at 7:00 when you start, and 23:00 when you are still writing. This is where an editor comes in. In my case, more for strategic flow, and calling BS, than for word-craft.
My Sport’s Perfect Storm had the challenge of being for more than one audience.
- Explaining the classic general principles of elite finance to my sector of sport and entertainment, in desperate need of capital, but terrified that taking it will damn its soul.
- Offering Big Finance the context and insight into the cultural differences in sport, that can derail even the most robust due diligence, and modelling of return.
- Conveying to a new generation of young finance professionals the reality of their industry. My own eyes today are very different to the newly qualified accountant in 1983, and I wanted to explain all this, to tell people that the type of career they will have is dependent on how quickly they understand the reality of the murky world of finance.
The original idea, of a hard finance textbook, evolved then into using the current state of the sports industry as a mechanism to bring out all the didactic learnings. Banking, debt, economics, and the capital markets are not well understood by my colleagues, as in many ways they are polar opposites. Sport is about tradition, emotion, loyalty, unscripted drama, victory and tragedy, heroes and redemption stories, and the fabric of society. Finance instead is cold, about numbers in spreadsheets, and return on capital. Crucially, one of them loves uncertainty and risk, the other despises it.
As Jim Kerr said in his typically artistic foreword, using the metaphor of a Stones song:
What I concluded after reading this book is that this is really a story of temptation, and what the dark forces of Mammon may reap upon the purity of our world of sport, if left untethered. The author, my fellow Glaswegian, has a penchant for the theological and the eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil. For him, Lucifer exists. So “Sympathy for the Devil” seemed so apposite for his Foreword.
Jim’s piece is delightful. As an aside, having a close relationship with a famous artist is quirky. They are just different, and I have learned that you need to be sensitive in your interaction with them. Sometimes they flow, and you shut up and watch the show. Other times you don’t bother them at all. Especially in the last five years, some of the stuff I’ve received via WhatsApp is truly worthy of a diary book in itself. Lucid wisdom and expression, in off-the-cuff “lyrics”, that definitely means I personally will do everything to prevent my own “factory reset” of this phone.
A story of temptation can’t be just a textbook, and Tobias Jones, the celebrated author who agreed to help me as editor, said early on:
You have at least two books here, Rog.
It’s gonna be a challenge to meld them and keep the flow and interest of all audiences.
Who doesn’t love a challenge?
We split the book into 4 parts:
The story of sport and its industry, with my own personal examples and scars.
The foundations of finance and capital from Adam Smith to the Parable of the Talents, via Silicon Valley.
Explaining, Da-Vinci-Code style, the famous Henry Ford phrase: “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”.
The elite techniques of corporate finance.
What’s causing Sport’s Perfect Storm and how we may save the industry.
Grant Williams generously provided the stunning epilogue “take-away”, and gives me confidence that we may have pulled this off in some way:
Roger has provided a comprehensive explanation of how we got here, the problems inherent in the status quo and a practical and realistic set of solutions.
We now have to face the world as it is, not the world as we wish it to be. Debts will be defaulted upon, clubs with great pedigree and tradition will likely fold, media coverage will shrink, revenues likewise, and the fan experience will be simplified because none of what’s been built is affordable in this new world. Rising interest rates focus the corporate mind like nothing else. The return of the Bond Vigilantes, to a world which thought them extinct, means the rolling over of the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate debt will be fraught with peril, and teams, leagues and, in fact, entire sports (whose inability to generate positive returns were masked by the availability of essentially free capital) will be forced to adapt or die. The wounded, as Roger has so presciently suggested, will be bayoneted.
Third lesson. Find people who will give you the push, especially if your default character at 59 is sitting under the tree in the garden.
I’m not sure I’d have started or finished this without Raffaella, and a young French rugby pro called Etienne Dussartre. Over to him directly, for
I reached out to Roger, and he replied by asking me the one thing that mattered: “Do you have a finance background?”.
I had never thought reading 500 pages of Brealey & Myers during my Masters would finally pay off. Considering Roger’s high standards and his audience, I felt the need to excel. The further we progressed into the writing, the more it became apparent that it would be my most significant intellectual challenge. Invigorating at times and humbling at others, this 18-month journey had a profound impact on me.
I learnt far more than I could ever have imagined, which inevitably made me realise how little I initially knew. It is also incredible how everything new suddenly seemed to appear everywhere. In reality, it had always been there, but I just wasn’t paying attention.
I now see the world, not just the world of sport, with very different eyes.
I would like to sincerely thank Roger for giving me such an opportunity and trusting me to deliver. Transitioning away from professional sport is not easy, as life can suddenly seem painfully boring. Having something tangible and meaningful that you can work towards and get excited about, is essential. For this, I am especially grateful.
One of our goals was to write the book I would have loved to have read as a young student. We wanted it to be as insightful as entertaining. I think we succeeded and I hope many of you will enjoy the reading.”
And, right there, is your real pay-off. The idea that you have influenced a young person at the start of their journey. That’s why you are not sitting under the tree, why you don’t ever compromise on quality.
So I am convinced, without bias, that this book is recommended reading for all kids starting out in business and finance, especially in our sector of sport. It’s also a serious manual for experienced corporate finance people, especially those looking to invest in sport. We lost Charlie Munger last week and we lost his way of thinking and deploying capital about 40 years ago, to be honest. This book, I feel, is signalling, John The Baptist style, an imminent return of real markets, their invisible hand, and the proper investing of money, for return.
Anyway, if all this is indeed just about competing with yourself, I know for sure I’m better today, having written a book like this. Others, with better and more important careers than me, and so much more to impart, should find the hours and energy to put down their own thoughts. One day, in 50 years’ time, someone new will read them and may be inspired.
Those people will look back at this period of ours, maybe indeed a Fourth Turning, and ask what we all were thinking, believing those crazy valuations, idolising the Elon Musks, and basically how we all just got so out of whack. That is your WHY.
And of course…
Never let the old man in!
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